Unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) or Unsolicited Bulk E-mail (UBE) is generally known as spam. Spam is junk e-mail, sent indiscriminately for the purpose of selling goods or services (often of a dubious nature) and can also include phishing attempts and virus infections.
How spam operates
There are many ways that e-mail addresses can be obtained online. However, one of the main ways that spammers obtain e-mail addresses is by deploying bots to harvest e-mail addresses (from Web pages and newsgroups etc.), to which they then send spam that can contain nuisances like hoaxes and serious threats such as pornography and viruses. This is one of the reasons for being very careful about how you use your e-mail address online.
Spammers use various ruses to trick users into opening their e-mails, anything from placing “Dear friend” or “Remember me” in the subject line – implying that the e-mail is from someone the user knows, to more generic subjects like, “Your money has been refunded” or “About your Web site.”
A lot of the time, once a spam e-mail is opened the spammers “research” work is done for them. Many spam e-mails contain files (including pictures) that, once downloaded in an e-mail, confirm that the e-mail address that has received the spam is active – opening the floodgates for a further stream of junk e-mail. Other spam e-mail will include an “unsubscribe” link which, when you follow it does not unsubscribe you. Instead, it confirms that the junk e-mail has been received, which again, makes the user’s e-mail address vulnerable to spam.
Because e-mail is a relatively cheap form of advertising, spammers can afford to send copies of their junk e-mail to tens of thousands of e-mail addresses. They know that a small percentage of the recipients will be duped into responding, even (in the case of advertising spam) buying their product. Spam ranges from pleas for financial assistance (like the Nigerian advance fee or 419 scam) to advertising for adult Web sites. It can contain offers to buy pirated computer software or cheap computer ink and pharmecutical products (like Viagra). Also on the rise are phishing attempts, where spam e-mail is sent by identity thieves, looking to steal Internet users’ personal and financial information.